Skip to main content

Protecting The Church In An Imperfect World

By October 19, 2022April 17th, 2023Safety Articles

Taxes, Insurance, Healthcare.  Few people consider listing these topics in their book of favorites, but let’s take a moment and think about what it would be like in a perfect world.

If all were perfect, we wouldn’t even need insurance.  There would be no risks in ministry.  No sexual abuse.  No storms to damage our facilities.  No accidents.  No employment lawsuits.  No cyber attacks. 

Unfortunately, the world we live in is not perfect and won’t be until Jesus comes again.  Until then, there are two things we need to do.

  1. We need to transfer our risk by carrying the right types of insurance where our risks are most likely to occur.  As we’ve said many times, it’s not about insurance, it’s about protecting your ministry.
  2. We need to minimize the risks to people and property.  While some things may be beyond our control, any disruptions to people or property can only challenge our goal of Kingdom work.

Let’s preview some areas to help accomplish these two goals.

Physical Inspections

While you may walk your property regularly, when is the last time you did so with the specific intent to look for things that may pose a hazard? Look for tripping hazards inside and outside the church. Inspect your playground for any hazards, and see if the cushion surfaces underneath the swings and slides are sufficient. Look for the overuse of extension cords, especially in places like your sound booth or behind stage. Check electrical panels that may be outdated (i.e. if you have a Federal Pacific electrical panel, you need to replace it at your earliest convenience). Look for any loose or questionable wiring in your utility closets or outside poles. You might be surprised by what you find, and if you’re not sure, get a licensed electrician to check it out.

Leases and Contracts

Do you properly protect yourself when outside groups use your facility? Do you know what to expect from them in terms of insurance, access to your buildings, damages, additional insured and/or waiver of subrogation requirements? Do you have a Facility Use Agreement that spells all that out? If not, consult with your agent or contact us for assistance.

Release Forms

Few things are as misunderstood as release forms, and few release forms are adequately used. General release forms are ineffective and generally unenforceable in a court of law. Release forms need to be specific about what is being released. Photo releases are equally as important, and medical condition disclosures and directives are crucial. Various sample policies are available, but final review should be conducted by legal counsel.

Procedures and Equipment for Medical Emergencies

Medical emergencies can occur anywhere. Churches should have an extensive first-aid kit which is readily accessible and several staff members or volunteer leaders trained in CPR, especially for infants and children. An automated external defibrillator (AED) is also pivotal, especially for adults.

Sexual Abuse Prevention

We talk about this so often, but yet it remains a serious problem within the church with often inadequate prevention measures. The prevention answer given by many churches is simply conducting a background check on workers. Background checks are an important element in a successful program, but they cannot serve as a standalone procedure because less than 10% of sexual abusers ever encounter the criminal justice system. Make sure the same protocols you use for children apply to your Junior and Senior High students as well. And don’t disregard proper childcare within your small groups. The same precautions you take at church should extend to home groups! As far as insurance protection, your policy must be endorsed to proovide this coverage, ideally at $1,000,000 or more limits.

Financial

Too many churches entrust the checkbook to only one individual or ask only one person to count the offering.  By insisting on dual or more controls, you’re not accusing someone of not having integrity; rather, you’re protecting them from accusation. Review your coverages for Employee Dishonesty, Forgery or Alteration and Theft of Offerings (usually known as Theft of Monies and Securities).

Umbrella Liability

As you well know, churches are not immune from being sued.  Without adequate insurance, this could literally jeopardize your ability to continue to operate. While not intended to be a perfect solution, here’s a rough rule of thumb. Your umbrella liability policy along with your underlying general liability limits should cover the annual budget of the church, up to a limit of about $10 million. Over that may just require an evaluation of church activities and their hazards.

We Live in an Electronic World

While large-scale cyber attacks against businesses grab the headlines, churches are not immune to cyber risk. Data breaches are attempted almost daily, and some cyber risks include malware and viruses that can hold a church hostage until a ransom is paid. Be aware that litigation involving  anything to do with the internet (Facebook, blogs, websites,etc.) is not covered under a church’s general liability insurance. Cyber liability insurance can not only protect a church from the fallout of a data breach or cyber litigation, but it also includes a team of experts to help you recover.

Developing a comprehensive safety and risk management plan for your church starts with assessing the risks in each area of ministry and then taking the steps to prevent problems before they happen. It’s the imperfect world to which we must adjust.